Search Results for 'constitutional reform'

In April (see here), I blamed the Democrats for failing to act on Constitutional Reform and losing any voice in the revision of the Alabama Constitution.  I wrote:

After years of having majorities sufficient to pass authentic constitutional reform in Alabama, but failing to address the issue at all, Alabama Democrats are to blame thank for whatever emerges as our new constitution. According to this article, the Alabama Republicans, seeing the strategic importance of constitutional reform, are quickly moving to seize control this issue.

The prospects for rational and deeply-considered revisions looked bleak back then.

Representatives and Senators from Prattville, Mobile, Auburn, Daphne, Homewood, and St.Clair County: now that is diversity of Alabama for you? Where is the black belt’s voice? Where is urban Alabama’s representative? For that matter: where is rural Alabama’s influence? These representatives will produce a constitution ideal for their respective constituents: affluent, white suburbia.

We can only hope that the internal backbiting, purity-tests, and power-jockeying within the Republican Party will cause some opening for reason.  Maybe Gov. Bentley, his puny three appointees, and Rep. DeMarco can, at least, be a temporary roadblock against he juggernaut of the super-majority, 11 appointees from the Riley/Hubbard/Marsh/ Bradley Byrne faction of the Party.

Robert Bentley has now made his appointments. These appointments do not exactly bring balance to the Commission for which I  had hoped. While former Governor Albert Brewer has been a long-time champion for constitutional reform, the other two appointments certainly counter-balance the wisdom he might bring to the commission. The remaining two:

  • “Becky Gerritson of Wetumpka . . . is currently President of the Wetumpka Tea Party.”
  • “Vicki Drummond, of Jasper, is an active member of the Alabama Policy Institute and the Heritage Foundation.”

Bentley said in a statement. “Vicki Drummond and Becky Gerritson have a dedicated passion and vision for exploring the need to reform the Alabama constitution.”

Governor, when have these ladies shown this “dedicated passion and vision” for constitutional reform? In what forum? Usually constitutional reform has not been a high priority of many Tea Party groups.

(UPDATE: according to Jennifer Ardis, a spokeswoman for Bentley, this Tea Party President and the API/Heritage Foundation activist have “an appreciation for what government should and should not do in the daily life of everyday Alabamians.”)

But it gets better.

Senator March named his appointees as well.  He named

  • Carolyn McKinstry, a survivor of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963;
  • Matthew Lembke, an attorney at Bradley Arant Boult Cummings. A appellate attorney with impressive credentials yet a member of the Federalist Society and typically represents major corporations. For instance, he “defended textile manufacturer in an environmental action alleging tresspass and nuisance claims relating to discharge of textile wastewater into a public lake.  On appeal from a jury verdict in favor of the plaintiffs, the Alabama Supreme Court reversed the judgment in favor of the plaintiffs and rendered judgment in favor of the defendant textile manufacturer.”
  • Jim Pratt, a Birmingham attorney, president of the Alabama State Bar and past president of the Alabama Association for Justice, a group representing trial lawyers.

Speaker Hubbard appointed:

A registered lobbyist? In the words of Keyshawn Johnson: “C’mon Man!”

Does this list look “inclusive and reflect the racial, gender, economic and geographic diversity of Alabama” and the Senate resolution demands?

Members from Rural Alabama? Zero. (Okay: one if you count Governor Albert Brewer being Morgan County.)

African-Americans Members? One out of 16 or (6.25%) while African-American represent 26% of the population in Alabama.

Female Members? Four (25%) while the lady folk represent 51% of the population generally.

White suburbia and corporations? I will let you count.

If this Commission reflects the “diversity” of Alabama, then Alabama is one big white, suburban enclave with as many registered lobbyists as there are African-Americans.

Thanks again, Democratic Majorities of years past.



After years of having majorities sufficient to pass authentic constitutional reform in Alabama, but failing to address the issue at all, Alabama Democrats are to blame thank for whatever emerges as our new constitution. According to this article, the Alabama Republicans, seeing the strategic importance of constitutional reform, are quickly moving to seize control this issue:

The Senate passed a resolution on Tuesday that, if passed by the House of Representatives, would create a commission to begin overhauling large sections of the state’s constitution. The work would not include the section on taxes.

As critically important as this document will be, Democrats have lost for the people of Alabama any real involvement in the process of its creation and drafting.  Bipartisanship could have been an element of reform. If the Democrats had acted, while in power, the creative process could have been truly inclusive. For instance, even if Democrats had chosen a commission similar to Florida’s Constitutional Revision Commission, Democrats and Republicans could have been involved in the drafting process.  (In Florida’s process, the selection of members on the commission arise from a host of all branches and elected officials across government: 37 various members are appointed by the Florida Governor, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, the Speaker of the House, and the Senate President.)

Instead, our process will now be pursued with no input from any elected Democrat.

The members of the commission would include the governor and three people he appoints, speaker of the House and three of his appointees, and the Senate president pro tem and three of his appointees. The chairs of the House and Senate committees on the judiciary, and on the constitution and elections would serve as ex-officio members of the commission.

Note: all Republicans. In addition, the proposed Commission not only excludes Democrats but also excludes an entire branch of government from participation: the judiciary. (Could it be because the Chief Justice, the representative of the judiciary, is a Democrat?)

We know this Commission will consist of the following officials:

The commission members will include Gov. Robert Bentley and three of his appointees; Marsh and three appointees; House Speaker Mike Hubbard and three appointees; Sen. Ben Brooks, R-Mobile, co-chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee; Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, chairman of the Senate Constitution, Campaign Finance, Ethics and Elections Committee; Rep. Paul DeMarco, R-Homewood; and Rep. Randy Davis, R-Daphne, chairman of the House Constitution, Campaigns and Elections Committee

Whereas before, a broad spectrum of viewpoints and philosophies could have influenced the content of our new constitution; now, only one narrow worldview will be considered even if what the this article reports is true,

The Senate added a provision to the resolution to say that the commission shall be inclusive and reflect the racial, gender, economic and geographic diversity of Alabama.

Representatives and Senators from Prattville, Mobile, Auburn, Daphne, Homewood, and St.Clair County: now that is diversity of Alabama for you? Where is the black belt’s voice? Where is urban Alabama’s representative? For that matter: where is rural Alabama’s influence? These representatives will produce a constitution ideal for their respective constituents: affluent, white suburbia.

We can only hope that the internal backbiting, purity-tests, and power-jockeying within the Republican Party will cause some opening for reason.  Maybe Gov. Bentley, his puny three appointees, and Rep. DeMarco can, at least, be a temporary roadblock against he juggernaut of the super-majority, 11 appointees from the Riley/Hubbard/Marsh/ Bradley Byrne faction of the Party

As you might tell: I have no confidence in where this all leads. We will get a new constitution, but it will not be reform. As the saying goes: “don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater;” well, I am afraid they will throw out the baby but keep the bathwater. They will want to continue to hoard power in Montgomery. They will not even address the disabling tax provisions built into our constitution. (“Marsh said keeping tax reform off the table was the only way to get things moving.”) Where will they begin “reforming”? Corporations and Banks:

Once established, the commission will start work this year on reviewing proposed changes on Article 12 – Private Corporations, and Article 13 – Banking.

Does the Business Council of Alabama already have model language prepared?  Will their millions in investment in 2010 Republican candidates pay off this soon, and so permanently? Has the banking industry’s lobbyist already been promised passage of their wish-lists.

So thank you to the Democratic legislators, governors, constitutional officeholders, consultants, strategists and leadership that failed to see the importance of this issue and provide leadership over this difficult process.

(Please note: I do not advocate particularly for a Commission form. As I suggested here, I believe we should further empower our locally-elected officials like our county commissions from across the state by including them within the nominating process.)

I have questioned the “diversity” on the Alabama Constitutional Reform Commission (see here, here and here) before.  An article in the Tuscaloosa Times, with the headline “Alabama Constitutional Revision Commission doesn’t reflect mandated diversity” raises the same issue today:

According to the resolution, commission membership “shall be inclusive and reflect the racial, gender, geographic, urban/rural, and economic diversity of the state.”

.  .  .The appointees as a group — lawyers, mostly white urban residents, and three women — don’t appear to strictly conform to the resolution’s membership requirement.

Marsh said the diversity language is fairly standard and he had several applicants, including a minority female, whom he appointed.

“I tried to follow the intent of the law,” Marsh said. “I think the intent was to do that, but you can’t maintain that every time.”

Hubbard spokesman Todd Stacey said Speaker Hubbard had “good intentions.” For Sen. Marsh and Speaker Hubbard: “It’s the thought that counts.”

The catch: the resolution used the word “shall.” According to Alabama law (for instance, see Ex Parte Joe Looney, Jr. 797 So.2d 427 Ala. 2001),

The word ‘shall’ has been defined as follows: “ ‘As used in statutes, contracts, or the like, this word is generally imperative or mandatory. In common or ordinary parlance, and in its ordinary signification, the term “shall” is a word of command, and one which has always [been given] or which must be given a compulsory meaning; as denoting obligation. The word in ordinary usage means “must” and is inconsistent with a concept of discretion.’

With only one African-American member out of 16, I doubt any court would find that the diversity mandate has been satisfied. Considering the history of the current Constitution and its racist origins, you would think Hubbard/Marsh would try to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

But it the make-up of the commission also fails to satisfy the elements of diversity in “gender,” (3 4 out of 16),  “geographic,” (only one north of Birmingham if you count Gov. Brewer), “urban/rural” (only one rural if you count Gov. Brewer again), or “economic.” (no one from the Black Belt.)

Where are the calls for public hearings on appointments of this commission from Republicans as in May?  Where are the inquiries into financial contributions into these appointees? Since Alabama Power has their registered lobbyist on the commission, is it improper to explore how much the company contributed to Hubbard, Marsh, Bentley, and GOP?

Sen. Marsh said he had “several applicants.” Who were these applicants? How were applications submitted? In what manner was the applications solicited? What was the criteria for appointment.  Were interviews even conducted?

Just two months ago, Senator Marsh was so concerned about “process” that he demanded a do-over of the selections by Gov. Bentley of appointees to the Auburn Board of Trustees, Marsh said:

I’m not pleased with the process that got us here, and I’m not alone,” said Marsh, a Republican from Anniston. ‘I think we can do better.’

The problem that I and other senators have is that the process was conducted way too quickly, and it wasn’t as transparent as it could have been,” he said.

Because of a lack of transparency, he threatened to shut the whole the process down in the Senate.

Marsh said his decision to force a do-over was strictly about the process, and that he had no objection to any particular nominees.

“Nothing personal against any of them. In fact, they could all be re-submitted if that is the will of the university,” he said. “But they need to take a more open approach. The consensus for that is strong.”

Senator Marsh, we need a do-over on this Commission as well: a more transparent process, a more open approach, and one which conforms to the requirements of the enabling resolution. We need a process that establishes a commission which is “inclusive and reflect the racial, gender, geographic, urban/rural, and economic diversity of the state.

James Madison penned this conclusion in Federalist Papers, #51:

This policy of supplying by opposite and rival interests, the defect of better motives, might be traced through the whole system of human affairs, private as well as public. We see it particularly displayed in all the subordinate distributions of power; where the constant aim is to divide and arrange the several offices in such a manner as that each may be a check on the other; that the private interest of every individual, may be a centinel over the public rights. These inventions of prudence cannot be less requisite in the distribution of the supreme powers of the state.

According to the founders, checks and balances were critically important in any organization and especially civil government. Evidently, the Republican leadership in the Alabama legislature do not exactly agree, even when the other office and check is occupied by someone in their own party.

Republican Speaker Mike Hubbard and Senate Pro Tem Sen. Del Marsh

In another snub toward Republican Governor Robert Bentley, the Republican leadership in the House and Senate has wrested power from and greatly diminished any influence the Governor may have in the rewrite of the state constitution. As I discussed earlier, Senate Pro Tem Del Marsh is pushing through a bill to “reform” the Alabama state constitution. The bill will create a commission with 16 members in include:

  • Republican Sen. Del Marsh and three persons he appoints. (25%)
  • Speaker Mike Hubbard and three persons he appoints. (25%)
  • 4 specified Republican House and Senate Committee Chairmen (all hand-selected by Marsh and Hubbard for their posts) (25%)
  • Lastly, Governor Bentley and his three appointees

Do you see balance there? The Legislative Branch (really two men: Speaker Hubbard and Sen. Marsh) controls 75% of the members of this Constitutional Reform Commission. The Executive, a co-equal branch of government, has only 25%. (Granted: Rep. DeMarco may be a Bentley man.) That, however,  is better than the Judicial branch which has no members, no influence, and no participation in this process at all. (In contradistinction, Florida, which has a commission process in place, fairly and equitably draws its commissioners from across every branch of government.)

The Riley/March/Hubbard/Byrne faction of the Republican Party must be still chapped at the Governor for beating their crony in the primary. This present chop-block follows a long series of other snubs and adverse power-plays.The R/M/H/B faction painted the Bradley Byrne’s race against Gov. Robert Bentley “as a showdown not between two Republicans, but a battle for the heart of the state GOP.”

  • In the primary, the R/M/H/B then undercut Gov. Bentley by rushing “ethics” legislation through a special session before Bentley went into office.
  • After he won, they continued to fight Bentley, implying he was a “RINO.”
  • Then, the R/M/H/B employed a “party power play aimed at providing the Riley-Hubbard-Marsh branch of the party with formidable resources” that will be outside the grasp of the party apparatus aligning with new Governor Bentley.
  • Speaker Hubbard formed his own Speaker’s Commission on Job Creation as a direct competitor to Bentley’s proposed cabinet-level Office of Small Business Creation and Development.
  • Byrne created of his own government watchdog group, Reform Alabama, an outlet to criticize and prod at the Bentley administration for the next 4 years.

Does anyone believe this faction would have granted former Governor Riley only 25%?

Will this now governor stand up for his co-equal power and veto the bill unless he is provided equal power to Marsh and Hubbard? Or will be continue to be run over by the Legislative leadership? Perhaps, Bentley will propose his own Commission proposal through an ally in the House which balances the power.

Sen. Scott Beason has defended the school provision of HB 56 by claiming its just about statistics.

But lawmakers behind the new legislation say it’s all about statistics.

“We’re not even requiring them to turn any specific person in,” said Scott Beason, a Republican state senator.

According to Beason and other supporters of the law, Alabama taxpayers deserve an accurate assessment of how much they pay to educate the children of illegal immigrants.

While it is difficult to determine how many illegal immigrants attend Alabama’s public schools, the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a non-profit advocacy group calling for tougher immigration reform, estimates the national cost of educating children of illegal immigrants at nearly $52 billion per year.

“We have a certain hypothesis of how much we’re spending,” Beason said. “But we need to begin to gather that data so we can prove how much of a problem it really is.”

We now learn it is not really just about statistics; the New York Times reveals the real motive behind the law.

The man who wrote the schools provision says the same thing, that it is not meant as a deterrent — at least not yet. It is, however, a first step in a larger and long-considered strategy to topple a 29-year-old Supreme Court ruling that all children in the United States, regardless of their immigration status, are guaranteed a public education.

The provision, which is known as Section 28, requires primary and secondary schools to record the immigration status of incoming students and their parents and pass that data on to the state.

Critics say it is a simple end in itself, an attempt to circumvent settled law and to scare immigrants away from school now, not at some point in the future. Weeks of erratic school attendance figures and a spike in withdrawals show that this has worked, they argue. And indeed, a federal appeals court on Oct. 14 blocked the provision pending an appeal by the Justice Department, though the court did not rule on the merits.

Michael M. Hethmon, general counsel for the Immigration Reform Law Institute in Washington, who wrote the provision, insists that its goal is much more ambitious.

The eventual target, he said, is the 1982 Supreme Court decision Plyler v. Doe. The case concerned a Texas statute that withheld funds for the education of illegal immigrants and allowed districts to bar them from enrollment, as well as one Texas school district’s plan to charge illegal immigrants tuition.

The court ruled that this violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause, saying that the statute “imposes a lifetime hardship on a discrete class of children not accountable” for their immigration status. In the decision, the court also said that the state had not presented evidence showing it was substantially harmed by giving these children — as distinct from any other children — a free public education. . .

“The toughest question has been obtaining reliable — and I mean reliable for peer-reviewed research purposes — censuses of the number of illegal alien students enrolled in school districts,” he said. “That information could be compared with other sorts of performance or resource allocation issues.”

The Alabama law directs schools to ascertain the immigration status of incoming students, through a birth certificate, other official documents or an affidavit by the child’s parents (the law also directs schools to determine the immigration status of an enrolling child’s parents, but gave no mechanism by which to do so).

That information is then passed on to the State Board of Education not only to prepare an annual report with the data but also to “contract with reputable scholars and research institutions” to determine the costs, fiscal and otherwise, of educating illegal immigrants.

Because no one is actually barred from attending school and the data is not passed on to law enforcement, the provision passes constitutional muster, Mr. Hethmon said.

But it also potentially enables a fresh challenge to Plyler v. Doe, and the idea that schools are obligated to provide a free education to illegal immigrants.

So it is not really just about statistics and when AG Luther Strange argued before a federal court that: “No child will be denied an education based on unlawful status,” he should have added “not yet.

Ask your average white-person-on-the-street in Alabama what is the political philosophy of President Obama and I expect the likely responses would be “liberal” or “socialist” or worse. While it does not work into the GOP’s playbook, there is a growing chorus of voices expressing that President Obama has governed like a moderate Republican from the 1990’s.

For instance, Bruce Bartlett, a top adviser to President Reagan and George H.W. Bush , stingingly contends that Obama is actually a covert conservative:

The truth is that Obama has always been moderately conservative – a fact that has been obvious to liberals dating back to the beginning of the 2008 campaign. It would be clear to conservatives as well if they weren’t so blinded by their partisanship and occasionally got their news from an unbiased source.

On what does he base this opinion?

. . .Obama took office under roughly the same political and economic circumstances that Nixon did in 1968 except in a mirror opposite way. Instead of being forced to manage a slew of new liberal spending programs, as Nixon did, Obama had to cope with a revenue structure that had been decimated by Republicans.

Liberals hoped that Obama would overturn conservative policies and launch a new era of government activism. Although Republicans routinely accuse him of being a socialist, an honest examination of his presidency must conclude that he has in fact been moderately conservative to exactly the same degree that Nixon was moderately liberal.

Here are a few examples of Obama’s effective conservatism:

  • His stimulus bill was half the size that his advisers thought necessary;
  • He continued Bush’s war and national security policies without change and even retained Bush’s defense secretary;
  • He put forward a health plan almost identical to those that had been supported by Republicans such as Mitt Romney in the recent past, pointedly rejecting the single-payer option favored by liberals;
  • He caved to conservative demands that the Bush tax cuts be extended without getting any quid pro quo whatsoever;
  • And in the past few weeks he has supported deficit reductions that go far beyond those offered by Republicans.

. . . Conservatives will, of course, scoff at the idea of Obama being any sort of conservative, just as liberals scoffed at Nixon being any kind of liberal. But with the benefit of historical hindsight, it’s now obvious that Nixon was indeed a moderate liberal in practice. And with the passage of time, it’s increasingly obvious that Clinton was essentially an Eisenhower Republican. It may take 20 years before Obama’s basic conservatism is widely accepted as well, but it’s a fact.

To bolster his argument, in separate article,  Bartlett recounts the numerous attacks on President Obama from the left. As an example, he cites:

Markos Moulitsas, founder of the widely-read Daily Kos web site, penned a bitter attack on Obama for betraying liberals, taking swipes at left-wing groups and other offenses. “There is a line between ‘moving to the center’ and stabbing your allies in the back out of fear of being criticized,” Moulitsas said. “And, of late, he’s been doing a lot of unnecessary stabbing, betraying his claims of being a new kind of politician.”

Bruce Bartlett is not the only commentator concluding such. Almost on cue recently, liberal Paul Krugman noted Obama’s position on the budget cuts “puts him slightly to the right of the average Republican voter.

But what about “Obamacare” and its individual mandate, you say? That proves he is a flaming liberal, right? As Ezra Klein notes:

Take health-care reform. The individual mandate was developed by a group of conservative economists in the early ’90s. Mark Pauly, an economist at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, was one of them. “We were concerned about the specter of single-payer insurance,” he told me recently. The conservative Heritage Foundation soon had an individual-mandate plan of its own, and when President Bill Clinton endorsed an employer mandate in his health-care proposal, both major Republican alternatives centered on an individual mandate. By 1995, more than 20 Senate Republicans — including Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Dick Lugar and a few others still in office — had signed one individual mandate bill or another.

Well what about the other one of President Obama’s tactics to “destroy” America: Cap-and-Trade. It appears this was a Bush I idea, too.

The story on cap and trade — which conservatives now like to call “cap and tax” — is much the same. Back then, the concern was sulfur dioxide, the culprit behind acid rain. President George H.W. Bush wanted a solution that relied on the market rather than on government regulation. So in the Clean Air Act of 1990, he proposed a plan that would cap sulfur-dioxide emissions but let the market decide how to allocate the permits. That was “more compatible with economic growth than using only the command and control approaches of the past,” he said. The plan passed easily, with “aye” votes from Sen. Mitch McConnell and then-Rep. Newt Gingrich, among others. In fact, as recently as 2007, Gingrich said that “if you have mandatory carbon caps combined with a trading system, much like we did with sulfur . . . it’s something I would strongly support.”

Of course there is President Obama’s “liberal” immigration policies of open borders and amnesty. Remember when President Obama said he wants a:

free flow of individuals between these two countries who want to work and want to be an asset to our country and to Mexico.

Oops, that wasn’t President Obama’s line; “uber-conservative” GOP presidential candidate Rick Perry spoke those words.  President Obama, on the other hand, has been incredibly “conservative;” in fact, deportations have almost tripled under President Obama from Pres. Bush. The number of deportations has hit an all-time record high: over one million have been deported.

Klein concludes with some final points of similarity between the President and Republicans of a few years ago:

Rather, it appears that as Democrats moved to the right to pick up Republican votes, Republicans moved to the right to oppose Democratic proposals. As Gingrich’s quote suggests, cap and trade didn’t just have Republican support in the 1990s. John McCain included a cap-and-trade plan in his 2008 platform. The same goes for an individual mandate, which Grassley endorsed in June 2009 — mere months before he began calling the policy “unconstitutional.”

This White House has shown a strong preference for policies with demonstrated Republican support, but that’s been obscured by the Republican Party adopting a stance of unified, and occasionally hysterical, opposition (remember “death panels”?) — not to mention a flood of paranoia about the president’s “true” agenda and background. But as entertaining as the reality-TV version of politics might be, it can’t be permitted to, ahem, trump reality itself. If you want to obsess over origins in American politics, look at the president’s policies, not his birth certificate.

Along this same vein of thought, the most stinging indictment of Obama’s actual governance came from Columbia Economics professor:

The Democrats of the White House and much of Congress have been less crude, but no less insidious, in their duplicity. Obama’s campaign promise to “change Washington” looks like pure bait and switch. There has been no change, but rather more of the same: the Wall-Street-owned Democratic Party as we have come to know it.
The idea that the Republicans are for the billionaires and the Democrats are for the common man is quaint but outdated. It’s more accurate to say that the Republicans are for Big Oil while the Democrats are for Big Banks. That has been the case since the modern Democratic Party was re-created by Bill Clinton and Robert Rubin.

Thus, at every crucial opportunity, Obama has failed to stand up for the poor and middle class. He refused to tax the banks and hedge funds properly on their outlandish profits; he refused to limit in a serious way the bankers’ mega-bonuses even when the bonuses were financed by taxpayer bailouts; and he even refused to stand up against extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich last December, though 60 percent of the electorate repeatedly and consistently demanded that the Bush tax cuts at the top should be ended. It’s not hard to understand why. Obama and Democratic Party politicians rely on Wall Street and the super-rich for campaign contributions the same way that the Republicans rely on oil and coal. In America today, only the rich have political power.

Obama could have cut hundreds of billions of dollars in spending that has been wasted on America’s disastrous wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen, but here too it’s been all bait and switch. Obama is either afraid to stand up to the Pentagon or is part of the same neoconservative outlook as his predecessor. The real cause hardly matters since the outcome is the same: America is more militarily engaged under Obama than even under Bush. Amazing but true.

I think all this shows the meaninglessness of partisan labeling. What we call “liberal” today was Republican a few years ago. What conservative John McCain included in his platform just three years ago is now a sign of President Obama’s commitment to communism. What the current Republican front-runner and other conservative 1990’s Republicans developed as a market-friendly counter to HillaryCare is now proof-positive of a socialist coup.

Recently, a closed-borders friend of mine responded with glowing accolades of Rick Perry in response to a post of mine about Perry’s “open-borders” stance. I asked if she had actually read my piece because his position was contrary to my knowledge of her immigration stancen. She had not but thought he must believe as she because “liberals” were attacking him. It showed how intellectually lazy we all have become by relying upon political labels and partisan categorizations to decide how we believe.

Labels are unhelpful and, as shown hereinabove, are increasingly meaningless.  Let’s end the habit of political labeling. Our republic would be much more healthy if we actually engaged in policy debate rather than relying upon partisan ad hominem attacks.

So, the next time someone derisively labels something or someone as “conservative” or “liberal,” don’t let them get by with it. Make them detail what makes the policy or the candidate “right” or “wrong.”

The Montgomery Advertiser reports that “Religious protection language was removed from immigration bill.” However, this should be filed under “old news.” Bob Terry of the Alabama Baptist reported this months ago. He wrote then:

The state Senate adopted an amendment to this bill that would have allowed churches to minister to illegal immigrants without fear of government reprisals. But that amendment was purposefully removed during conference committee considerations between Senate and House members.

The Alabama Legislature knowingly attempted to insert itself into the sacred space reserved for God alone in dictating to churches to whom and how they might minister in Jesus’ name.

The Legislature knew this issue for churches existed by recklessly proceeded head-long in in disregard to concern for churches and their mission.

Scott Beason explained why the church amendment was purposefully removed:

Sen. Scott Beason, R-Gar­dendale, who sponsored the legislation, said Bedford’s amendment used the phrase “bona fide religious organiza­tion” but left the term unde­fined. “You can pretty much plug any group into that,” Beason said. “What is a bona fide church, what is a reli­gious function. There’s no such definition in federal im­migration law.”

This could be another Keyshawn Johnson, “C’mon Man” Moment.

But I will make this one a SNL “Really with Seth and Amy” moment. There is no such definition? Really!?! You object to the phrase “bona fide religious organization” Really!?!?!?!?! Where do you think Bedford got such an awkward phrase?


Bona fide nonprofit religious organization in the United States” means an organization exempt from taxation as described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 as it relates to religious organizations, or one that has never sought such exemption but establishes to the satisfaction of the Service that it would be eligible therefor if it had applied for tax exempt status.

Bona fide organization which is affiliated with the religious denomination” means an organization which is closely associated with the religious denomination and which is exempt from taxation as described in section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 as it relates to religious organizations.

Their defense of this bill is getting silly and frivolous. Even if he was not familiar with this exact definition in this regulation, other Federal statutes, case law, and regulations actually provide an extensive definition of church and “religious organizations.” Most exhaustively, for instance, federal tax law narrowly defines the “churches” and ‘religious organizations” that are eligible for Section 501(c)3, tax-exempt status.

I find his concern for technical definitions in federal immigration law hilarious considering the entire piece of legislation otherwise overly simplifies immigration regulations and disregards existing definitions, exceptions, and exemptions of federal immigration law.

At this point, we must ask: were there any consultations with immigration attorneys when the law was drafted? Did anyone think those lawyers with experience in the laberynthine workings of the immigration statutes and process could provide some wisdom?   Did anyone slow down long enough to seek guidance from any immigration law professor? What about advice from the Alabama Law Institute? Or did anyone do even a superficial Westlaw or Nexus/Lexus search?

Former Governor Tim Pawlenty withdraw as a candidate for the Republican Presidential nominee for 2012 after finishing a disappointing third place in the Iowa straw polls.  By voting Pawlenty off the island, the Democratic Party should seize the opportunity this affords. The GOP now narrowed the field of voters which will respond to a positive message. (They may plan to rely exclusively on the anti-Obama sentiment, though.)  As stated by Ben Smith of Politico:

The departure of Tim Pawlenty this morning won’t have a major impact on a race that had already taken shape without him — that’s why he dropped out.

The move makes clear that Texas Gov. Rick Perry has fully seized the space Pawlenty sought to occupy, of the established conservative alternative. It also marks a failure of the Sam’s Club conservative brand Pawlenty sought, at times, to personify.

That notion of a populist conservatism with a blue-collar edge fit Pawlenty’s story, and his denunciations of the trifecta of Big Government, Big Labor and Big Business fit its populist model. But the idea was ultimately a solution for a party tacking to the center, and this is a moment dominated by the right. Pawlenty, sensing that, never fully adopted that populism — his denunciations of Big Business, for instance, didn’t have a real policy aspect to go with them. He used his blue-collar biography as an appealing detail but couldn’t connect it to a larger, different pitch.

Sam’s Club conservatism was floated by Ross Douthat and Reihan Salam when the Republican Party felt a need to reinvent itself. It seems to have lost out, in Pawlenty’s campaign and in the party, to the tea party grass roots, interested in rolling government back, not reshaping it.

Pawlenty’s “populist conservatism” represents a unique strand within GOP ranks. While this strand may not be well represented within activist circles, it is actually more representative of a vast majority of casual, Republican voters in Middle America and the South. An ideas-driven message catered to these Sam’s Club conservatives has now been completely eschewed by the GOP. Left remaining and vying for the control of the 2012 GOP message are two remaining voices;  the GOP’s message for 2012 will  either be dominated by a baptized pseudo-libertarianism  (represented by Gov.  Rick Perry and Rep. Michelle Bachmann) or Establishment-style, corporate cronyism (represented by Mitt Romney.)

This scenario presents a distinct opportunity for Democrats especially in the South and Midwest. For as was true in 2005, is largely remains true today:

This is the Republican party of today–an increasingly working-class party, dependent for its power on supermajorities of the white working class vote, and a party whose constituents are surprisingly comfortable with bad-but-popular liberal ideas like raising the minimum wage, expanding clumsy environmental regulations, or hiking taxes on the wealthy to fund a health care entitlement. To borrow a phrase from Minnesota governor Tim Pawlenty, Republicans are now “the party of Sam’s Club, not just the country club.”

Therein lies a great political danger for Republicans, because on domestic policy, the party isn’t just out of touch with the country as a whole, it’s out of touch with its own base. And its majority is hardly unassailable.

Neither Tea-Partyism nor Corporate Cronyism appeal to a large swath of these white working-class constituency. With the GOP dividing its loyalty between those camps, the Democratic Party should retool its message and expressly appeal to these Sam’s Club conservatives.

While their opinions on social issues are similar, Sam’s Club conservatives differ fundamentally from the vocal Tea Partiers and Corporate Cronies. Only 32% of Sam’s Club conservatives have a positive opinion of the Tea Party movement, itself. (And this poll was taken in May before the debt ceiling brinksmanship displayed by the Tea Partiers earlier this month.) “In June, 45 percent of the National Association of Evangelicals leadership said Pawlenty was their top-pick for the GOP candidacy. (The next favorite pick—“no preference,” followed by former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney.)”

On specific policy issues as well, there is great difference between Sam’s Club conservatives and the GOP. For instance, when asked whether business corporations make too much profit, only 13% Tea Party-types believe so but 58% of Main St. Repubulicans (Sam’s Club conservatives) answered in the affirmative. Or when asked whether environmental laws costs too much in jobs and hurt the economy: 92% of Tea Partiers believe they do, while a minimal 22% of Sam’s Club conservatives do. 66% of Sam’s Club conservatives believe we should actually focus on alternative energy while 77% of Tea Partiers chant “Drill, Baby, Drill.”  Even on “toxic” heath care reform issue, there is great division: 80% Tea Partiers see “mostly bad effects” while only 47% of Sam’s Club Republicans responded similarly.

(Note: Pawlenty failed not because of his ideas, but because he “didn’t have the guts to speak his mind when it counted” and he “bowed to the tea party wing of his party and abandoned the qualities that made him a popular two-term Minnesota governor.“)

While these Sam’s Club conservatives will likely never fully embrace President Obama’s candidacy (Sam’s Club disapproval at 68% vs. 97% for Tea Partiers), these voters could be convinced to support new Democratic Congressional and state-level candidates which can enunciate the convictions of these conservatives.  This will especially be true if Congressional Republicans tie themselves to a Perry-Bachmann Tea-Partism ( i.e. “Medicare and Social Security are Unconstitutional“) or Romney corporatism.  Sam’s Club conservatives will be open to alternatives. The Democratic Party can provide the alternative (or a third-party candidate will).

The Sam’s Club conservatism is quite compatible with a new vision for Democrats.  As Douthat and Salaam suggested to the GOP in the original piece: “The Party of Sam’s Club.”

The third possibility–and the best, both for the party and the country as a whole–would be to take the “big-government conservatism” vision that George W. Bush and Karl Rove have hinted at but failed to develop, and give it coherence and sustainability. This wouldn’t mean an abandonment of small-government objectives, but it would mean recognizing that these objectives–individual initiative, social mobility, economic freedom–seem to be slipping away from many less-well-off Americans, and that serving the interests of these voters means talking about economic insecurity as well as about self-reliance. It would mean recognizing that you can’t have an “ownership society” in a nation where too many Americans owe far more than they own. It would mean matching the culture war rhetoric of family values with an economic policy that places the two-parent family–the institution best capable of providing cultural stability and economic security–at the heart of the GOP agenda.

(BTW: you will never see something like this in the Weekly Standard or any major Republican publication today: a sign of how things have dramatically changed in just 6 years.)

Douthat and Salam recommended a whole host of specific policies from welfare reform to tax policy (which appear quite “progressive” for today’s GOP).  However, according to their analysis, to appeal to Sam’s Club conservatives, the policies would need be expressly pro-family:

Conservatives have long emphasized the importance of these cultural factors, and rightly so–but just as culture impacts economics, so too can economic policy affect cultural trends. It’s possible to imagine policies that would support a virtuous cycle, in which increased working class economic security shores up familial stability. And policies that offer government support to economically insecure families wouldn’t be money for nothing. America, like any nation, depends on parents’ willingness to raise healthy and well-educated children. . .

Crafting pro-family policies that stand against this trend is not a question of turning back the clock to some lost Ozzie-and-Harriet golden age, as critics of social conservatism often assert. Quite the opposite: Precisely because the world has changed, with the demise of lifetime employment and increasing returns to education, strong families are growing ever more important, and policies that encourage people to form them and keep them together are ever more necessary.

Appealing to Sam’s Club Republicans will be critical for any success for Democrats in the future in Alabama. I had good success in my campaign for State Senate appealing to a district of these voters (largely, rural white voters) with such a ideas.  While appealing to Sam’s Club conservatives,  Democrats remain faithful to core-Democratic principles. For instance, as I suggested before, some policies which perfectly appeal to these Sam’s Club conservatives are:

  • Relocalizing the Economy. From agriculture to manufacturing to energy-production to banking, we need to empower locally-owned businesses to meet our local needs, locally.
  • Rejecting Crony Corporatism. In a day when those who are positioned to “work the system” abuse the public coffers as a source of loot and use the arm of the government as a instrument of plunder, we need to return to Andrew Jackson’s slogan: “Opportunity for All, Special Privilege for None.”
  • Rebuilding Wealth-Producing Assets in the Poor and Working Classes.  Working people are far less economically secure than ever before in US history yet the upper-classes live in a Second Gilded Age.  We must intentionally return economic power to the working people by developing sustainable and wide private-ownership of assets and capital; build, to steal a phrase, “An Ownership Society.”
  • Re-humanizing the Economy: Alabama Democrats should purge our minds of the current idolatry of the market and develop policies which treat economics as if families, communities, and our posterity mattered. There are “weightier matters” and considerations than merely ballooning corporate profits-sheets.  There are ideals and institutions worthy of protection from modern inhumane market-forces.  The economic war which was unleashed against our families and communities over the past several decades must be turned back.

Alabama Democrats have learned the following to be true:

The greatest danger facing any political majority is ideological sclerosis–the belief that because the party has attained political power on the strength of certain policies, those policies will always and forever keep them in power. With sclerosis, come stasis and corruption; with stasis and corruption, eventually, comes defeat.

The Alabama Democratic Party’s road to defeat in November 2010 seemed to follow that exact path. The Republicans have unwittingly provided us a unique opportunity now. While the GOP disregards the voters which have formed its core-voting constituency since Reagan, the Democratic Party in the South and Midwest can re-gear and re-tool our message to meet their concerns and needs. Our theme:

Above all, it should be in favor of limited government, and in favor of using government’s considerable power to shore up the institution that makes a limited government possible–the beleaguered but resilient American family.

  • The Beason-Hammon Anti-immigration Bill “wasn’t supported by facts and wasn’t based on real economic theories and research.” – Dr. Keivan Deravi, an economics  professor at Auburn Montgomery and budget adviser to the Legislature.
  • “The law raises the ‘perception factor’ about the state and that capital investment ‘will tend to avoid Alabama relative to other Southern states. Specifically, how does it paint Alabama as a state willing, once again, to use state law to discriminate against politically unapproved groups? The law represents movement back in a populist direction I had hoped this Legislature would avoid.”  – Dr. Chris Westley, associate professor of economics at Jacksonville State University.
  • Anti-immigration laws like Alabama’s are jobs and economic growth killers. It’s a tried and failed approach that plays well politically, but is based on flawed economic logic. Immigration laws are a way to tarnish and scapegoat people who don’t look or sound like us.” – Dr. Scott Beaulier, executive director of the Johnson Center for Political Economy at Troy University

These are the professional opinions of economists from our local universities. However, like the federal judges, county commissions, editorial boards, church leaders,  and lawyers which have expressed opposition to Beason-Hammon, they “absolutely, positively wrong” according to Sen. Scott Beason. For the Republican Legislators have special knowledge (or decoder rings).

In Beason’s mind,

Beason said the checks would get rid of illegal workers that are taking jobs that should go to legal Alabama residents. This is a jobs bill.

However, this runs contrary to studied evidence. As Michigan economics professor Mark Perry says,

“There is no fixed pie or fixed number of jobs, so there is no way for immigrants to take away jobs from Americans. Immigrants expand the economic pie.”

According to Jeremy Thornton, an economics professor at Samford University’s Brock School of Business,  the law is

one of the “rare examples” where there is no economic benefit, only setbacks. “The state will be poorer because of this bill.”

Beason’s arguments reveal a very primitive understanding economic theory. As stated by this study:

[Researchers] show that the U.S. economy is dynamic, not static as many critics of immigration either assume or at least appear to argue. “While our modeling suggests that there would be reductions in the number of jobs for U.S. workers in low-skilled occupations, this does not mean that unemployment rates for these U.S. workers would rise,” according to [researchers] Dixon and Rimmer. “With increases in low-skilled immigration, the U.S. economy would expand, creating more jobs in higher-skilled areas. Over time, some U.S. workers now in low-paying jobs would move up the occupational ladder, actually reducing the wage pressure on low-skilled U.S. workers who remain in low-skilled jobs.”

According to Samford Economics Professor Thornton:

Thornton said there are assumptions that enforcement of immigration law will provide jobs for out-of-work Alabamians. However, that’s known as the “lump of labor fallacy,” which refers to the idea that there is a fixed number of jobs. However, he said that’s like saying a football team can only score a certain number of points in a game.

In fact, the economists are correct Beason has it completely backwards:

Critics of immigration assume a zero-sum game, whereby every illegal immigrant deported from the country opens up one of a fixed number of jobs, which would then be filled by a U.S.-born worker. That’s not how things work. Dixon and Rimmer (and other economists) point out that low-skilled workers can help make the U.S. workforce more productive. “Under policies that increase the number of low-skilled immigrants, the occupational mix of U.S. workers shifts in a way that increases their overall productivity. In contrast, reducing the supply of low-skilled immigrants “draws Americans into less productive, lower-paying jobs than they would have occupied otherwise.” In addition, changes in the U.S. labor supply affect the amount of capital invested in the economy.

Remember in February when the Republicans said:

‘There is no single issue more important to me than putting Alabamians back to work and growing our economy.”

He went on to add, “Everything that we do in this session needs to be about creating jobs. If it doesn’t create a job then it kind of needs to go down a level because that’s what we need in this state.”

Considering the analysis of these economist,  job creationdethroning the AEA” and getting payback was the number one priority of the Republican Legislature . (That job-creation thingy can be a priority next year, according to Marsh and Hubbard.)

I anticipated the defensive responses from supporters of the Alabama Anti-immigration Bill when I wrote “Leftist judges are striking down these Anti-immigration Bills, right?” I figured that lazy labeling (Liberal, leftist, etc.) would soon be applied to the federal judges striking down these laws.  Such empty sloganeering had already been employed here in Alabama by the bills supporters.

Well, it has arrived full tilt. Representative Hammon, a chief architect of the Alabama law, is reported to have responded to the federal court striking several provisions of the Georgia law:

“It is no surprise that liberal groups working to shield those who live here illegally are trying to block implementation of Georgia’s immigration law, and we are sure they will make similar efforts here in Alabama,” Hammon said.

And other supporters also here,

Michael Hethmon of the Immigration Reform Law Institute, which has been helping state lawmakers draft Arizona-like laws around the country, said Alabama legislators were hoping for a legal challenge when they passed their law, thinking they could get a different ruling than the one issued in Phoenix by U.S. District Judge Susan Bolton, who blocked the Arizona law last year.

The Alabama legislators “looked at Judge Bolton’s reasoning and said, ‘We’re not on the left coast here, we’re in the 11th Circuit, and we think we’re going to get a different interpretation by a different judge,'” Hethmon said.

We’re not on the left coast? Well, neither are Utah or Indiana. In fact, Utah is in the 10th Circuit and Indiana is in the 7th Circuit, neither are hotbeds of liberal constitutional theory. So the fly-over region is not proving any more helpful to Rep. Hammon and Mr. Hethman.  Remember: of the seven judges to rule against these anti-immigrant laws so far, four have been Republican appointees from Reagan and Bush.

The fact of the matter is that this legislation is just bad law. The Alabama legislature passed the bill in the face of federal courts already ruling against more tame legislation in Utah and Arizona. Georgia, at least, tried to conform their law more to that prior case law some.

In Georgia, state Rep. Matt Ramsey, a Republican who sponsored the bill, cut out the “reasonable suspicion” requirements, meaning officers there will check a person’s immigration status if he or she can’t produce identification or provide other information that could help determine identity. . .

Other states, such as Alabama, have decided to stick with the Arizona model and see how a different judge rules on it.

Similarly, Indiana modified their some as well:

Nevertheless, contrary to the attempts of such  labeling, opposition to this bill does not come exclusively from “liberals.” Alabama County Commission Association, the Cato Institute, the American Family Association, the National Association of Evangelicals, US Chamber of Commerce and the Southern Baptist Convention all have all opposed to this type of legislation. Conservative Republican Congressman have opposed it as well.

Let’s stop labeling and address the merits of the contrary arguments.

BTW: Can anyone else name another piece of legislation which legislators affixed with the sponsor’s name: “Beason-Hammon Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act?”